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New FGCU president aims to carry on predecessor’s momentum

Aysegul Timur’s steady rise in higher education has led her to a career-defining leadership moment.

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 5:00 a.m. August 3, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Aysegul Timur was selected by the FGCU board of trustees May 4 to be the school's next president.
Aysegul Timur was selected by the FGCU board of trustees May 4 to be the school's next president.
Courtesy photo
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Longtime Southwest Florida higher education leader Aysegul Timur likes to say she’s guided by three Ps: passion, partnerships and performance. As of July 1, she can also add a fourth P: president. 

That’s the day she officially took over as president of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. She was chosen by the FGCU board of trustees for the position May 4, and confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors June 22. On July 1 she replaced the retiring Mike Martin, who had been FGCU president for six years. A 25-year veteran in higher education and administration, Timur was most recently vice president and vice provost for strategy and program innovation at FGCU, a post she held since 2019. 

Timur is the fifth president of FGCU, founded in 1997. She’s also the first woman president. (In a potential small sign of progress, two of the other biggest higher education institutions in the region by student enrollment, the University of South Florida and St. Petersburg College, are also led by women, with Rhea Law and Tonjua Williams, respectively.)     

FGCU, with an Eagles mascot, is an economic engine of the region. It has some 16,000 students, nearly 600 faculty and more than 900 total staff. The school, which has awarded 46,629 degrees since 1997, offers 64 undergraduate, 26 masters, seven doctoral and 17 academic certificate programs.  

Timur seems to be the right leader for the moment at FGCU. She has an immigrant’s work ethic (she moved to the States from her native Turkey 25 years ago, only learning English when she arrived in Naples) combined with a financial whiz’s intellect (she has a Ph.D from USF in Business Administration, majoring in Economics.) And she has a down-to-earth, approachable leadership style that can resonate with both students and Southwest Florida business leaders — separate but connected entities with a lot at stake in FGCU’s success.  

Aysegul Timur was initially hired by FGCU in 2019.
Photo by Stefania Pifferi

In a late July Zoom call, Timur says growing up she had big dreams — but being a university president wasn’t something she thought about. That makes the accomplishment even sweeter. “After my own family, my kids and my husband, this is really a life achievement for me,” Timur said May 4 after the trustees’ vote.

End in mind 

During the recent Zoom call and in public appearances leading up to her presidential appointment, Timur talked often about her three Ps. Students and leaders across campus see those characteristics as well, based on FGCU videos.  

Take passion — especially immigrating to the United States. “Maybe it doesn’t resonate with” everyone, she says, but it can be a hardship “moving from another continent, coming to a different culture and country.” But she made it work, recalling some commutes to Tampa from Naples to attend classes with her three-year-old son in tow. 

The FGCU community feels passionate about Timur, too. It made clear May 4, when she received a standing ovation after she entered the Cohen Student Union upon the trustees’ vote that made her president-elect. Timur, walking in, paused and waved with a beaming smile. “I care so deeply about what I do and deeply about students and deeply about faculty and staff and the community we serve,” Timur says. “That is so important to me.”   

May 2023 FGCU grad and former FGCU Student Body President Grace Brannigan supported Timur as both a trustee and member of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee. She sees the passion, too. “I think she’s incredibly kind and incredibly smart and resilient,” says Brannigan. 

She adds that the new president’s life story is “reflective of the story of lots of FGCU students and lots of students in Florida. That’s the kind of leadership this community needs, someone who doesn’t just want to help or improve FGCU but wants to connect with them on that level and understands more of what it’s like.”

Timur says one of her core pieces of leadership advice, to young students, staff and professors, is to find and then follow your passion in whatever field you choose. “Also,” she says in the interview, “begin with the end in mind and be very audacious about what your goals are.”  

Solid credentials   

The partnership side, meanwhile, is all over Timur’s resume and her hands-on work at FGCU, and before that, at Hodges University in Naples, where she held multiple roles. “Timur is widely known for building collaborative teams,” FGCU says, in part, in a statement. Highlights include:

  • Launching FGCU’s micro-credentialing and digital badges initiative, which enhances existing academic programs and meets the “ever-changing needs of the business community.”
  • Led the efforts for FGCU to receive $22.9 million through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Good Jobs Challenge, funds to amplify workforce development efforts in Southwest Florida. The grant, say school officials, will allow FGCU to develop workforce training programs to help “unemployed and underemployed Southwest Floridians obtain the necessary qualifications for jobs in health care, education, manufacturing, transportation, distribution and logistics.”
  • A major partnership with Naples-based medical device giant Arthrex, one of the largest private employers in the region. Over 500 FGCU graduates are currently Arthrex employees — some 20% of its workforce. Other programs include scholarships funded by Arthrex and an MBA offering for Arthrex employees. 

The FGCU relationship is so significant to Arthrex that its company president and founder, Reinhold Schmieding — who rarely makes public statements and appearances — attended, in person, all four presidential candidate interviews with FGCU trustees. Schmieding was also the first person to offer a public comment before the May 4 trustee vote.  

“Dr. Timur’s hands-on initiatives [have] led each achievement every step of the way, providing us great assistance and confidence in overcoming the limited access to university-educated labor in Southwest Florida,” Schmieding said at the meeting. “She is a true champion of higher education we respect and admire. On behalf of the 4,000 Southwest Florida employees and their families at Arthrex, we strongly endorse Dr. Timur as the next FGCU president.”

Keep it going 

The last P, performance, plays a big part in what drew FGCU leaders to hire Timur in the first place four years ago. 

Timur was dean of the Johnson School of Business and senior vice president of academic affairs at Hodges when she took the FGCU position in 2019. In the statement announcing her hiring four years ago, FGCU officials called her a “go-to expert for workforce development” in the region. Ed Morton, a member of the Florida State University System Board of Governors and former FGCU board chair, added that Timur's "commitment to excellence and keen insight into when and where higher education might improve the quality of life in our community is without equal.”

New FGCU President Aysegul Timur with recently retired president Mike Martin.
Courtesy photo

FGCU Lutgert College of Business Dean Christopher Westley shares Morton’s sentiments about Timur’s track record of performance. “I can’t think of anyone better suited to build on the foundation Dr. Martin has created over the last five years,” says Westley in a statement. “But to that foundation, she brings a lot of well-earned credibility as a higher ed and community leader with a record of adding value to every project she commits to. Her work ethic, values and ability to get things done will make this an exciting time for our university and region.”

Performance, of course, is often only as good as the next sale, the next partnership, or, in the case of the 16,000 FGCU Eagles, the next term paper. Timur realizes that. Asked about what she wants her first 100 days to look like, 26 days into that marker, Timur doesn’t hesitate: more forward progress. “FGCU has gained a lot of momentum,” Timur says, with a nod to her predecessor, Martin. “Let's keep that momentum going.”   



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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